'In Interests of Israel and Syria to Negotiate Peace' – Professor

The Hill reported that US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is set to push the Trump administration to formally recognise the disputed region of the Golan Heights as part of Israel. The announcement came after a joint tour of the territory by Graham, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Envoy to Israel David Friedman.

Last month, Senators Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton, together with Representative Mike Gallagher, introduced a resolution to ensure that Israel retains control of the Golan Heights.

On Thursday, Syria reportedly warned the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation that Damascus will attack Israel if it does not leave the Golan Heights. The region was taken by Israel from Syria during the Six-Day War of 1967. Neither the UN nor the US recognises the territory as belonging to Israel.

Silhouette sculptures of Israeli soldiers are pictured next to a sign for tourists showing the respective distances to Damascus and Baghdad from an army post on Mount Bental in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on January 20, 2019.  - Sputnik International
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Sputnik has discussed the initiative by Lindsey Graham with Professor Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria and Lebanon, vice rector of Tel Aviv University, and former director of the Moshe Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern and African Studies.

Sputnik: What do you think about the announcement by Lindsey Graham that he will push for US recognition of the Golan Heights? Do you think it's just part of a campaign effort?

Eyal Zisser: You know, in Israel itself we are approaching elections, this is one thing. And in the United States, there is the tension between the Democrats and the Republicans; and the Republican Party is becoming a little bit much to the right, sometimes it's more to the right than many Israelis themselves. So, I don't think that it shows that there is any change in the policy of the United States; I doubt it very much whether the US administration will change its position, but with President Trump, you never know.

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Sputnik: Do you think that if Trump does make that move, it will be upheld by US lawmakers?

Eyal Zisser: It's hard to say. We have to mention that many Israeli prime ministers in the past, including Benjamin Netanyahu himself, the current prime minister, were ready to give the Golan Heights entirely or part of it as Israel's part of the peace process. I think the issue is that there is no peace process on the horizon, it's not on the agenda, that's why there're those who say that Israel should retain it.

I doubt very much whether or not there will be any change in the position of all actors; and I also think that in the coming future, maybe it can take several years, negotiations with Syria will be resumed, because it is in the interest of the two countries — Israel and Syria — to negotiate for peace; and once again we'll hear other voices from Israel.

Israeli soldiers stand guard at Gush Etzion junction in the West Bank Friday, March 4, 2016 - Sputnik International
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Sputnik: How much support is there in Israel itself to recognise the Golan Heights as part of the country? Or is there, as you've mentioned, more support to actually return to talks with Syria and, perhaps, return part, or all, of that area to Syria as part of a peace deal?

Eyal Zisser: You know, when there were peace talks some years ago, in 2000 and before and after, there was readiness; according to the polls, more than half of the Israelis were ready to give it back. When there is no peace when Iran is playing a role in Syria when the situation is not stable in Syria and with the emergence of ISIS in Syria, I think it is not on the agenda, so there is not much support.

In this sense, people change their mind according to the situation; so I don't think that if there is a peace process, even a peace agreement, there will be a withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

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Sputnik: Can you talk about how this is going to affect Washington's role in the region? Is there any incentive for Washington to push for US recognition of the Golan Heights? Other than the personal political ambitions of some politicians, is there strategic importance for Washington?

Eyal Zisser: You're absolutely right. There was a time when the United States wanted to play a role in the region, the region was important for it; and it had to take into consideration all of the interests of all of the parties, it sought good relations with Arab countries, it wanted some role in Syria and Iraq, good relations with Iran, so, when the US had a real interest in the region, we never heard such talks; nowadays, the United States [has] lost any interest in the region and it looks at the region through the prism of domestic American politics, and you can clearly understand why you hear such voices from some lawmakers in the United States.

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Sputnik: What can we expect to hear from the UN on this matter?

Eyal Zisser: All the UN institutions voted over and over again to confirm that the future of the Golan Heights should be dictated as part of peace negotiations.

If Syria decides to give it up to Israel, that's okay, but it should be part of peace negotiations. This situation cannot be changed as a result of a war; the presence of Israel there can be legitimate in the sense that as long as there is no war it's important for Israel to be there. But the permanent future should be dictated in peace negotiations and in an agreement recognised internationally. This was always the position of the UN and, by the way, also of the USA.

Views and opinions, expressed in the article are those of Eyal Zisser and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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